Tag Archives: ftth

Economics of fiber favors rural cable upgrades

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If your local cable system is in bad shape, you might be in luck. According to an analysis done by Daniel Frankel at FierceCable, the economics of upgrading cable systems that were last upgraded (or not) in the 1990s to the next generation of service favors replacing coaxial cable with a full fiber to the home build. That explains some or all of the reasoning behind Altice’s decision to convert some of the Suddenlink and Cablevision systems it acquired to FTTH.

As quoted in FierceCable, Robert Gessner, president of Massillon Cable TV (MCTV), a small cable system in Ohio, explained that earlier hybrid fiber coax upgrades were not done with broadband service in mind, which meant more coax and less fiber…

“We debated it for a long time,” he said. “The decision starts to some extent with our last upgrade. When we transitioned our plant from coax to HFC in 1995, we built it for television, and we built out the largest node sizes we could”…

“If we had waited five or six years and did our HFC upgrade in the early 2000s, after cable modems became ubiquitous, we would have built smaller nodes,” he explained. “If you did your HFC upgrade early, you have a lot of fiber to run.”

Consequently, DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades, such as Comcast is beginning to roll out, aren’t much cheaper than a fiber build, which delivers more long term benefit. MCTV is offering 100 Mbps down and up to homes with fiber now, and has the plant to offer even faster service in the future, if it chooses.

That could be good news for rural Californian communities where independently-owned cable systems can still be found. Whether it’s good news for Californians who rely on the scattering of small systems Altice purchased from Suddenlink is another question, though. Altice will be factoring competition and economies of scale into its FTTH upgrade decisions, and its acquisitions are concentrated in the northeastern U.S., where it goes head to head with Verizon fiber. The math is likely to come out differently in California, where Altice is thin on the ground and faces little threat from Frontier and AT&T.

CPUC debunks Frontier’s service claims, approves FTTH grant in Phelan

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The high desert community of Phelan, in San Bernardino County, will get gigabit class fiber to the home service. The California Public Utilities Commission voted four to one yesterday to approve a $28 million grant to Race Telecommunications, which will cover 60% of the cost of building the project. The single no came from commission president Michael Picker.

The decision had been delayed two weeks, while Race and Frontier Communications explored ways they might work together. That discussion came at the request of commissioners, who were trying to avoid spending state money in an area that was also getting federal subsidies, albeit for relatively minor upgrades to ageing DSL systems that will not meet the CPUC’s minimum standards.

The CPUC also did some ground truthing and discovered Frontier’s service claims did not line up with reality, according to commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen…

Since our last meeting [CPUC staff] has gone down to Phelan’s central business district and established that they are in fact going forward with their upgrades to some households and businesses. They also though, and this I think is quite significant, they determined based on the engineering constraints of the project, that Frontier’s upgrade would not reach nearly 100% of the community not even the 85% that we thought before, but more like 60%. So 40% of the community would not be served. And that’s very significant. That means that we have a significant portion of the community would not be served in an area that we have identified as our highest priority.

But Rechtschaffen also warned that the Phelan project shouldn’t set a precedent, and other pending projects should be looked at differently.

The backlog of proposals for California Advanced Services Fund subsidies is being whittled down. Four grant applications are still pending, and only one of those – a middle mile project proposed by Ducor Telephone in the Tulare County mountain community of Kennedy Meadows – is completely outside of the current phase of the federal Connect America Fund subsidy program. Although, as a small rural telephone company, Ducor has access to money from related federal programs.

The other pending projects – Connect Anza in Riverside County, Vandyland in Santa Barbara County and Las Cumbres in Santa Cruz County – are, like Phelan, in the former Verizon territories acquired by Frontier and share some overlap with federally funded areas.

Net neutrality, San Bernardino FTTH endorsed by CPUC

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A $28 million grant for the Gigafy Phelan fiber to the home project in San Bernardino County and a statement opposing plans to roll back net neutrality rules were approved this morning by the California Public Utilities Commission. The exact comments to the FCC as it considers scrapping common carrier status for broadband service are still to be determined. After first trying to delay the filing, commission president Michael Picker opted for another round of editing before Monday’s deadline.

San Bernardino FTTH decision delayed again

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The California Public Utilities Commission couldn’t come to a decision yesterday on a $28 million grant from the for a fiber to the home project in the San Bernardino County community of Phelan. Despite false starts and nearly two years of review, commissioners put off a vote on Race Telecommunications’ Gigafy Phelan proposal until at least their next meeting.

They were responding to a stream of late protests from Frontier Communications, which is getting federal subsidies to upgrade service to some of the same homes. That federally subsidised service, though, doesn’t have to offer anything better than 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, which doesn’t meet the CPUC’s minimum standard of 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. And there’s no way of guaranteeing what Frontier will deliver in the portions of the project area that are not eligible for federal money.

Most of the commissioners seemed to support the project, at one level or another. Commissioner Liane Randolph said it should go forward…

It’s an appropriate project for CASF funds, the applicant has met all of the requirements, it’s an area that needs service. I understand the concern about the [federal] funds. But, to staff’s point, you don’t want to discourage applicants from proposing projects in areas that are identified as needing service and then having the rug pulled out from under them after another applicant comes in after the protest period. So I feel that for appropriate management of the program, providing better service to the community, I am comfortable with this project. And if and when it comes back, I’m going to be supportive of it.

There were questions about where Frontier is building out, how it can use the federal money, and whether or not some level of cooperation between them and Race is possible. CPUC president Michael Picker, who usually votes against infrastructure grants when an incumbent isn’t involved, had even more questions. Which could also mean even more delays. That could be a problem, as commissioner Carla Peterman pointed out…

I do have some concern that if we delay this matter indefinitely, then this project may not be there and this community will be in the same place with the same digital divide issue it currently suffers from.

The next CPUC meeting is scheduled for 13 July 2017.

Frontier’s broadband claims can’t be trusted, says Race’s reply to grant protest

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“Frontier is attempting to subvert the [California Public Utilities] Commission’s [California Advanced Services Fund] rules and processes to block a sorely needed project for a disadvantaged community”. That’s the bottom line of Race Telecommunications’ reply to Frontier Communications’ last minute trashing of a $28 million grant for an FTTH system in Phelan and other, nearby high desert communities in San Bernardino County.

The key issue is whether Frontier provides service in the area at the CPUC’s minimum 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speed level. Frontier has made increasingly expansive claims about what it will do in the future, but has offered no proof that it has actually done anything yet. In its reply, Race points to Frontier’s ads that similarly, and falsely, promise fast service in a Californian desert community…

Boron, CA is the site of a successful and fully constructed Race CASF project that is 100% Fiber to the Home. According to Frontier, they have been investing funds in Boron since 2012 and advertise speeds of up to 50 Mbps download. Frontier also claims “to be Boron’s only Internet provider that uses a completely fiber optic network.” These claims are inherently false and further demonstrate the lengths that Frontier will go to deceive consumers and the Commission in regards to their service levels. Customers in Boron and Phelan face many issues with Frontier’’s alleged service – from billing problems, to dishonesty regarding service eligibility. The reality is Frontier has not met the past serviceability needs of this area and cannot document they can do so now. Further, Frontier’s publicly released documents demonstrate its inconsistent definitions of available bandwidth speeds with admitted shortcomings in network capacity. With Frontier’’s woeful rural deployment history as the backdrop, when contrasted against Race’s “Gigafy” solutions, the goals of the Commission will be met and competitive choice for the citizens of Phelan will result with long-term benefit.

The CPUC put Race’s Phelan FTTH proposal through an excruciating review process that dragged on for nearly two years. Anyone who applies for a grant from CASF has to document the lack of service in the project area in detail, and provide verifiable information about financing, budgets, business and construction plans and a long list of other items. Race has played by the rules and passed the test; Frontier has not.

At this point it’s about keeping faith: with independent ISPs, like Race, who rely on the rules and level playing field professed by the CPUC, and with the thousands of people in Phelan who have a right to expect fair treatment.

Letters of support for the Gigafy Phelan grant, submitted by Race Telecommunications, 26 June 2017.
Reply to Frontier’s comments about Gigafy Phelan, submitted by Race Telecommunications, 26 June 2017.
Reply to the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates’ comments about Gigafy Phelan, submitted by Race Telecommunications, 26 June 2017.

FTTH expansion proposed for Riverside County desert communities

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Anza Electric Cooperative wants to expand its fiber-to-the-home system in southwestern Riverside County. After being awarded a $2.7 million FTTH infrastructure grant from the California Advanced Services Fund in 2015, Anza used its existing electric plant as the backbone for a fiber network aimed at reaching 3,800 homes in its service territory.

Now, it’s asking the California Public Utilities Commission for another $2.2 million, to reach 1,200 more homes and "several businesses", and provide free service to fire stations and the Ronald McDonald camp for kids with cancer According to the public version of its grant application summary

Connect Anza will deploy a fiber optic cable on existing poles and rights of way and establish a network of sufficient capacity to establish high speed, quality internet service for Anza Electric Cooperatives (AEC’s) existing service territory covering over 500 square miles, located wholly within western Riverside County. The area encompasses the communities of Mountain Center, Pinyon Pines, and Garner Valley which totals approximately 200 square miles of our service territory…

Connect Anza, as an integral part of AEC, will provide reliable, affordable broadband high speed, Fiber-ToThe-Home (FTTH) internet service to its member-owners at the lowest possible cost. Connect Anza will offer speeds of 50Mb/s both down and up to residents at a price point of $49.00 per month with no cap or limits. AEC will also offer VoIP service including CASF e911 requirements at a monthly rate of $20.

There’s one big difference between this project and Anza’s previous one: the first time around, it was going head to head with Verizon, which paid virtually no attention to its own wireline telephone systems, let alone potential competitors.

Since then, Frontier Communications has taken over those systems, including the ones that don’t offer even 1990’s legacy DSL in most of Anza Electric’s territory. The relatively few areas where broadband service is offered, speeds don’t reach the CPUC’s minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. In contrast to Verizon, Frontier aggressively, and increasingly beligerently, challenges CASF grant proposals that pose a competitive threat to its monopoly control of, at best, poorly served areas of rural California. It won’t be so pleasant this time around.

California FTTH grant approved under current subsidy program rules

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California’s primary broadband subsidy program will stay on its present course, at least until the legislature changes it or the California Public Utilities Commission resets priorities and rules going forward. That’s the takeaway from a CPUC vote to approve a $1.1 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for a fiber to the home project in southern Santa Clara County.

It’s an important message to independent Internet service providers who might be considering CASF-funded projects in the future: it’s expensive to prepare and submit applications – more than $100,000 in some cases – and the prospect of having one rejected a year or two later because the rules changed increases the risk beyond the point most are willing to go.

By a 3-to-2 vote, the commission approved the Light Saber Project grant, which will pay about 60% of the cost of building out an FTTH system to 150 homes in the Paradise Valley community, in the hills east of Morgan Hill. It was the second time commissioners considered the grant. The first time, they kicked it back for more work.

This time around, the debate wasn’t really about the project itself. Rather, the debate centered on whether CASF grants should be put on hold until the commission sets new priorities for the program and/or the California legislature rewrites the rules completely.

Broadband subsidy priorities shouldn’t be set retroactively, commissioner Liane Randolph told her colleagues…

The applicant put together a project under our current system, proposed it to us and as we’ve discussed there are changes and kind of systemic modification we can make to the program, or we’re happy to take further legislative direction on how to prioritise projects, but I’m hesitant to not let a particular project move forward when they’ve presented it with the program we currently have in the effect and are administering it right now.

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves didn’t agree, saying that as it stands, the CASF program lacks focus…

The bigger driver for me is the lack of prioritisation of the program and that’s really the context. I think the legislation will inform that. Now, the bigger issue for me is that we do have a structure that I don’t currently agree with, but I appreciate that these are the rules that are in place today.

Randolph was joined by commissioners Carla Peterman and Clifford Rechtschaffen in voting to approve the project. Along with Guzman Aceves, commission president Michael Picker also voted no.

CPUC takes another look at a Santa Clara County FTTH subsidy

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A stalled Santa Clara County fiber to the home project might get back on track this week. A proposed $1.1 million grant for the Light Saber Project is scheduled to go in front of the California Public Utilities Commission next Thursday.

It’ll be the second time that commissioners have taken a look at it. LCB Communications/South Valley Internet, an independent Internet service provider in southern Santa Clara County, applied for a $2.8 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) in 2015 for a plan to build out fiber to more than 500 homes in the San Martin and Paradise Valley communities, south and east of Morgan Hill, respectively. A wireless ISP challenged the application, claiming it provided service at or above the CASF minimum of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. The result was that San Martin, where most of the homes and lower income households were located, was removed from the project.

That left 150 homes in Paradise Valley. The grant request was trimmed to $1.1 million and sent on to the commission for consideration in February. It ran into headwinds at the meeting: the idea of subsidising FTTH service to a relatively affluent community was not well received. The median household income in Paradise Valley is $102,000 per year, which is quite a bit higher than many other communities in California. On the other hand, it’s in Santa Clara County, where the California housing and community development department sets a low income threshold of $85,000 for a four-person household.

No vote was taken and Light Saber was sent back for more work. Some of the details were adjusted, the budget was trimmed a bit, and now it’s being resubmitted to commissioners. But as the new draft of the grant resolution points out, it "is substantially the same as the prior draft resolution". What might have changed, though, is how the project is viewed in the context of the CASF program rules and project grant standards. The CPUC is considering whether to change those rules, in a process that was initiated, in part, because of the push back on Light Saber as well as the Digital 299 project, which was likewise put on hold at the same meeting. When Digital 299 came back for a vote and was approved in March, there was an acknowledgement that it had been submitted with good faith reliance on the rules as written. That reasoning applies equally well to Light Saber.

Better data would support better muni broadband decisions

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Not suprisingly, the municipal fiber to the home analysis done by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Innovation, Technology and Competition, comes to the conclusion that the more successful systems (or, from the study’s glass half empty perspective, the ones that are failing less badly than the others) keep revenue high and costs low. Operating efficiency – the ratio of operating costs to revenue – and revenue per household had a greater impact on near term positive cash flow and long term capital payback than the per household construction costs…

The fact that these regressions yielded statistically significant results based on only 19 or 20 observations is remarkable. These results suggest that the manner in which a municipal fiber project is operated, both in terms or generating revenue and minimizing operating cost, play a more critical role in the success of a municipal fiber project than the upfront capital costs.

One note of caution: although expense versus income and per household construction costs are commonly used measures for evaluating subscription-based business models, such as FTTH, using revenue per total households passed conflates take rate/market share and average revenue per subscriber, two separate and individually important metrics.

The reason for this relatively vague approach is the general lack of transparency on the part of muni FTTH systems. Of the 88 systems identified by the authors, only 20 broke out FTTH results from overall utility financial statements – overwhelmingly, it’s muni electric utilities that are in the business of being Internet service providers. Publicly traded telecoms companies, by contrast, report results using standard benchmarks that allows the public to make apples to apples comparisons and make informed decisions about which ones to invest in. Taxpayers deserve to have the same level of data when they’re called upon to decide whether or not to build a muni FTTH systems in the first place, and subsidise it on an ongoing basis.

Muni FTTH study estimates the cost of local subsidies

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Municipal fiber to the home systems are not money makers, according to a study done by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Innovation, Technology and Competition. It started by identifying 88 muni systems in the U.S., and then dove into a top-line financial analysis of the 20 that publish separate separate operating statements – the rest consolidate their FTTH reporting with the results from their muni electric utilities.

According to the authors, less than half are showing positive cash flow and most of the rest aren’t making enough to pay back basic construction costs…

The data contained in this study are sobering. Municipal fiber is not an option for the 86 percent of the country that is not served by a municipal power utility. Of the 20 municipal fiber projects that reported the results of their municipal fiber operations separately, eleven generated negative cash flow. Unless operations improve substantially, these projects cannot continue to operate over the long haul, let alone cover the capital costs needed to establish operations. Of the others, five are projected to take more than 100 years to recover their costs, and two others are projected to take over 60 years. Only two are on track to break even, and one of those is based on a highly urban, business-oriented model that few other cities are likely to be able to replicate, and the other includes data from two years of stronger performance when it offered only DSL service.

The study does a reasonable job of looking at the available data, albeit from the limited perspective of five years of results. The real problem is the lack of detailed financial reporting by muni FTTH systems. Although operating efficiency is identified as an important factor in whether or not the systems with positive cash flow, there’s no easy way to gauge success on the traditional metrics for subscriber-based businesses, such as market share, churn rate, subscriber growth and average revenue per customer. Given the public sector’s typically long term view and investment time frames measured in decades, it would be helpful to be able to get some idea of what operating results might look like another five, ten or more years in the future. The CTIC study takes a snapshot based on five particular years – 2010 through 2014 – which is fine as far as it goes, but it really doesn’t go far enough.

State and federal subsidies were excluded from the analyses, except for a couple of side calculations. The operating losses, in some cases, and the lack of ability to fully repay initial capital costs are, in effect, the local subsidy. The fact that local taxpayers (or utility ratepayers, where the distinction is meaningful) have to support muni FTTH doesn’t necessarily mean those systems are failures. The answer to that questions depends on how long those subsidies will last and whether the local electorate considers them to be acceptable and appropriate, assuming that they were able to make an informed choice, directly or indirectly.